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Chase Jeter ready to make long-awaited debut at Arizona

After sitting out a year, Jeter is on track to be one of the Wildcats’ most important players

Chase Jeter hasn’t appeared in a college basketball game since January 2017 when the Duke Blue Devils lost to the Louisville Cardinals.

That was less than two years ago, which Jeter finds hard to believe.

“It feels like I haven’t played in three years,” he said.

That time away from the game “kills your spirit” and makes you develop a new appreciation for the sport, Jeter said, but it has been worth it.

Now just a few months away from the 2018-19 season opener, Jeter is on track to be the Arizona Wildcats’ starting center, playing for a coach he has known since high school, in a city that’s not too far from his hometown of Las Vegas.

“Everything seemed to fit,” the redshirt junior said. “I feel like my table is set. It’s going to be a great opportunity.”

Arizona represents a fresh start for Jeter. The former McDonald’s All-American had an underwhelming career at Duke, as he dealt with a debilitating back injury and an unstable role.

As his playing time waffled, his confidence dipped and his production suffered. In 48 games across two seasons with the Blue Devils, he averaged a meager 2.1 points and 2.2 rebounds per contest.

He decided to transfer in May of 2017. He picked the UA over other West Coast powers.

“My opportunity at Duke was limited, so when I got here there was no stress,” Jeter said. “My confidence was through the roof, so I think the biggest thing moving forward for me is that I’m confident and I’m secure with who I am as a player.”

But who exactly is Jeter as a player? No one outside the program really knows. It’s been so long since his last game, and Arizona’s practices are closed off to the public.

“I’m just the guy who’s going to give it his all,” Jeter said. “I run the floor really well. Very mobile, rebound, defend well, score the ball on the low block, in the mid-post, my mid range game. You know, just an all-around 5 guy who can do both jobs on both ends of the court.”

Sophomore point guard Alex Barcello envisions Jeter being a good fit in Arizona’s offense. With a roster chock full of guards and wings, the Wildcats are planning to be more perimeter-oriented this year, implementing more ball movement and a quicker tempo.

“He’s not a slow big,” Barcello said. “He can run the floor really well. I mean we play pickup probably once a week and I love it because I’m not waiting for him. I’m just kicking the ball up and he’s already up the floor, dunking.”

Arizona head coach Sean Miller, who recruited Jeter in high school and coached him with USA Basketball, has lauded Jeter’s defensive ability most of all.

The long-armed center swatted 2.9 shots per 40 minutes in his sophomore year at Duke. The Wildcats have not had a shot-blocker like that throughout Miller’s entire Arizona tenure.

“He’s 6-foot-10 and I love the way he defends,” Miller said.

Jeter believes he benefitted immensely from practicing against talented big men like Deandre Ayton and Dusan Ristic on a daily basis last year.

And Miller said Jeter rarely, if ever, missed a practice.

“It forces you to improve,” said Jeter, who added that he hasn’t had any back issues since arriving in Tucson. “... And that’s exactly what I did.”

That improvement has yet to be put on display, but one thing is clear: Arizona needs him to succeed if it’s going to be successful in 2018-19.

Ayton, Ristic, and Keanu Pinder are gone, and UA’s only frontcourt addition this offseason was 6-foot-9 forward Ryan Luther, meaning the unit is thinner than usual and the Wildcats have no choice but to lean on Jeter.

Sounds good to him.

“It’s exactly what I wanted initially when I went to Duke,” he said. “... Things didn’t work out for me there, so once I got the opportunity here at Arizona, I don’t think anything could have worked out better.”

Jeter’s leadership could be as crucial as his on-court contributions. He has been around the program for two years and in college basketball for four. He’s played in the NCAA Tournament and in some of the most intimidating venues in the sport. That’s more than most of UA’s young roster can claim.

And even though Jeter couldn’t play last year, he was an observant spectator, learning how to guide teammates when they hit rough patches.

“I helped in a lot more ways than people would know,” he said. “I feel like my teammates know that it’s going to be a big role for not only me, but the returning guys as well.”

Another reason Jeter makes a good leader: his work ethic. He’s a gym rat, multiple teammates have said. If you show up to McKale Center at 8 a.m., you can count on seeing him there, working on his craft.

And if confidence is truly what’s going to differentiate Duke Chase Jeter from Arizona Chase Jeter, that’s a welcomed sight for the Wildcats.

“I just know that I can depend on myself the most when I know I’m working,” he said. “The confidence I have in myself always goes back to my work ethic.”